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Southwest Utah and Beyond
Southwestern Utah is a very unique place to visit where the surrounding canyons are only about 3,000 feet in elevation and can be over 10,000 feet a short distance away. Due to the diversity of the landscape, almost every highway in all directions becomes a scenic route. Within a short drive are all the national parks and state parks that can be visited in three different states, as well as local national monuments and museums that tell the story of early colonization.
Utah 143 is listed as a National Scenic Byway, yet it’s only 55 miles long and resembles a high-elevation roller coaster, starting at 6,000 feet on the west coast, climbing 10,000 feet along the plateau, and descending back to 6,500 feet. Eastern slope. This route was once a migration route used by Native American tribes to travel from their winter desert homes to summer hunting in the highlands. Along the way is Brain Head Peak, the highest point on the plateau at 11,307 feet which provides some spectacular skiing slopes. The northern view of the colorful amphitheater of the Cedar Monument is also on this route.
SR-14 connects US-89 to Cedar City via a 40-mile pass called Cedar Mountain. The route passes through the Dixie National Forest, which has groves of aspens and evergreens with abundant wildflowers, as well as lava rock. Crossing the southern flanks of the Markakunt Plateau at elevations of 8,500 to 11,000 feet offers some spectacular views of Zion National Park and tall pine forests. Sitting at 9,200 feet is Navajo Lake, visible from the top, framed by aspens and pines forming a picture-perfect crystal blue body of water. Another photographic lake is Aspen Mirror Lake, which can be found about half a mile from the Byway via a dirt road and a short hike through Aspen Grove. The most popular spot on this route is the Cascade Falls.
Reaching the falls is quite easy and somewhat difficult. The easy part is 3.5 miles of dirt road, still very dusty. Getting to the waterfall was a bit difficult. The hike is just over half a mile one-way with steep turns and descents, where the trail curves around the top of a steep cliff; However, there are breath-taking views along the entire trail. The falls feed from Navajo Lake through crevices in the limestone bed and emerge from a small cave in the cliff face. The overlook is just a few feet from the cave and provides a panoramic view of the 1000-foot waterfall down the mountain and through the forest to the Zion Narrows.
Connecting Utah 14 and Utah 143 is Highway 148 known as the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway, which highlights the Dixie National Forest and Cedar Breaks National Monument for seven miles. At an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, the monument overlooks an amphitheater half a mile deep and three miles wide from rim to rim, where the walls form spirals carved with glittering multi-colored rock formations where orange, coral, rose, and white glow from the sun’s reflection. The amphitheater sits in lush meadows of wildflowers and sub-alpine forest where small stands of bristle cone pines grow around the edges. Cedar Breaks National Monument is one of America’s most iconic places, crowned by a towering flight of steps and commanding views of the Great Basin Desert in the distance.
Between Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon is a 21-mile steep and winding scenic drive through lush forest known as Kolob Terrace Road. Through the small community of Virgin, the highway begins near homes and farms as it weaves its way in and out of Zion National Park and ends at Lava Point, one of the highest elevations in Zion Park with views of the Cedar Breaks. , Pink Cliffs, and The Zion Narrows.
Johnson Canyon Road begins just east of Kanab and travels 18-miles along the west side of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with great views of the colorful cliffs of the Grand Staircase. Leaving US-89 behind Canyon Road passes a farm house with horses grazing in a field with sandstone cliffs in the background before reaching the Old West set where the gun smoke was filmed. The movie set is on private land but there is a good view of the dilapidated buildings from the highway. Eight miles in, the visual stimulation cranks up a notch as the highway begins to climb steep white cliffs that stand out against the sage and juniper trees below. After 18 miles, you can take the dirt Glendale Bench Road 15-miles back north to US-89 for quick access to Utah 9.
The northwest section of Zion National Park known as Kolob Canyon is off Interstate 15, 40 miles north of Zion Canyon at Exit 40. A five-mile scenic drive allows access to one-way hiking trails and scenic views. The road runs along the western edge of the Colorado Plateau through a narrow parallel strip of canyons cut by majestic peaks and 2,000-foot-high walls. At the end of the byway is the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. The trail is just over a mile round trip with a modest elevation change of 100 feet. The trail follows a small ridge that offers spectacular views of the Pine Valley Mountains, Kolob Terrace, and Kolob Canyons. At the end of the trail, looking south is MT. Trumbull, some 100 miles away, on the North Rim of Grand Canyon-Parasahanta National Monument.
Utah State Route 9 begins at Mount Carmel Junction on US-89 and ends just east of St. George and is the access highway for the east and west entrances of Zion National Park, which showcases majestic mesas and towering sandstone cliffs. Entering the park from the east, the highway cuts through checkerboard mesa areas to towering cliffs where the colorful rock formations change around every corner, and some are so close to the highway that you can reach out and almost touch them. Passing through the Pine Creek Canyon area, the highway passes through a small tunnel and reaches the ever-so-impressive 5,631-foot tunnel, which cuts right through a towering wall of red-rock, where gallery-like windows offer a quick view out through the entire tunnel. . After exiting the tunnel and scrambling around the switchbacks, the pullout side windows provide a magnificent view of the towering cliffs that will take your breath away. As the byway descends into the desert canyon, the highway is lined with beautiful trees with streams of the Virgin River running parallel to the byway.
A visit to Grand Canyon National Park should never be complete without seeing the North Rim. Many people do not dare to go to the North Rim, because it is difficult to get there or because it is so low season, it takes a long time to get there. Once there, the scenery makes the long journey worth it. The Cape Royal Scenic Drive is just 21-miles on a narrow winding road through groves of aspen and ponderosa pines that leads to the top of a mesa with several overlooks that provide magnificent views of the canyon. At Cape Royal Point is Angel’s Window, a natural arch that frames the great bend of the Colorado River at the Uncar Delta. A half-mile hike starts right at the top of the arch. A left fork from Cape Royal Roads overlooks Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet, the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon’s east end. The narrow walls are clearly visible, only Marble Canyon where it opens up to the magnificent view, the Grand Canyon. Just behind the visitor center is Bright Angle Point. A quarter-mile paved but steep and narrow trail leads to the top of the mesa, where the views are stunning.
For a bit of sightseeing outside of Utah, there are three Nevada State Parks about 100 miles northwest of St. George that make a nice round trip drive. Just outside of Panaca, Cathedral Gorge State Park is located in a long narrow canyon where unique and dramatic patterns have been eroded into the soft bentonite clay. A walking trail allows one to get up close to the cathedral like spiers. Just a few miles north is a pullout where the view of the canyon is a photographer’s dream. Passing through Pioche, a small historic mining town worth spending some time exploring, before heading through some of Nevada’s back country to Spring Valley State Park, where the highway passes through beautiful pink and light-gray winding gorges. The 59-acre reservoir is known for its excellent fishing and waterfowling. The journey continues through some of Nevada’s historic ranches dating back to the 1800s before reaching Echo Canyon State Park, known for year-round activities for boating, fishing, swimming and camping in some of Eastern Nevada’s best country settings.
Just over 100 miles south of St. George, Nevada, the ever-popular Valley of Fire State Park features bright red Aztec groves nestled in gray and tan limestone, including ancient petrified trees and petroglyphs over 2,000 years old. . NV 169 is the main highway through the park with numerous pullouts along eroded rocky vistas. However, the park isn’t just about red rocks, where six miles of White Domes Road lead to short hiking trails, narrow canyons, desert views, and an array of more colorful rocks, including yellows, pinks, grays, and bright colors. White, and orange.
The Petroglyph Trail is a three-quarter mile hike over loose sand and rocks to Mouse Tank, where along the way are some amazing rock formations with petroglyphs carved into the rock walls. As the road climbs to the small summit of Rainbow Vista, an amazing assortment of rocks of every color imaginable can be seen, and a one-mile hiking trail leads deep into the colorful rock formations. Just past this vista is a short side road with a view of Silica Dome and a great view of the red-sandstone of Fire Canyon. At the end of White Domes Road, a 1.25-mile loop provides another wonderful opportunity to explore the assortment of colorful rock formations along the White Domes Trail. This hiking trail is quite amazing, as it crosses beautiful sand, then curves down and winds its way through a very narrow valley before turning and slowly climbing back to the top of the mountain.
Just northwest of St. George Utah lies the 7,400-acre Snow Canyon State Park within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, surrounded by ancient lava flows and colorful Navajo sandstone, all in a fragile desert setting that offers plenty of opportunities for anyone. Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. Sitting at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, Mojave Desert, and Great Basin Desert, it is home to a diversity of wildlife species and plants found nowhere else in Utah. Snow Canyon has a long history of modern-day human habitation, from the Anasazi Indians to films like Jeremiah Johnson, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Electric Horseman.
People are always interested in the foundation that made America what it is today, where every city and small town has its own story to tell. Frontier Homestead State Park does just that for Cedar City and the surrounding area. The museum has some automobiles and printing presses from Ford’s early days, and horse-drawn buggies from the early railroad days. The outdoor homestead section features some of the original log houses, a schoolhouse and sheep shearing shed, and a replica of an antique sawmill shed and blast furnace for making iron. Sitting on the right of the highway is one of two original large cranes used to extract ore from the ground.
Founded in the mid-1850s and abandoned by the Mormons in the mid-1950s, only the ghost town of Grafton remains. A few restored buildings still stand today, reminding us of the colonial history of the area and the hardships they faced in the desert environment, religious beliefs and dependence on each other for survival.
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